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USF alumnus will be taking home a Kente Award after helping start more than 1,000 businesses

Three women stand on a stage holding a Fairwinds check for $30,000.
Inez Long
The Black Businesses Investment Fund
Inez Long, CEO and President of the Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF), stands center holding a $30,000 grant to BBIF to empower BIPOC owned businesses through financial literacy education.

After three decades in the financial services industry, Inez Long's work with the Black Business Investment Fund will be recognized with the USF Kente Alumni Award Thursday.

For more than 20 years, the Joyce Russell Kente Awards have celebrated the academic excellence and achievements of University of South Florida students and community leaders.

Inez Long is president and CEO of the Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF), and will be taking home the 2024 USF Kente Alumni Award Thursday.

Long said she wondered why she was chosen this year, but once she fully understood what the award meant, she was honored.

“It was very exciting, because it was coming from my alma mater,” she said. “I kind of dug and researched and then based upon all of the work that I've done, to really make things better for regular business people that are really trying to grow, scale and create businesses, I understood why they recognized me."

BBIF was started in 1987 as a non-profit helping to provide capital to Black, minority, and underserved businesses.

“Think of a bank without deposits,” Long said. “It's a Community Development Financial Institution, which is certified through the U.S/ Department of Treasury. So we still have fiduciary responsibilities for the investments that we borrow and bring on board, but we're not as highly regulated as the bank.”

Long has over 35 years of experience in the financial services industry, starting when she began working in a "regular bank."

But it wasn’t until she had a personal experience that made her decide she wanted to work for BBIF.

A woman is smiling in front of a green background.
Inez Long
The Black Business Investment Fund
Inez Long has more than three decades of experience in the financial services industry.

“When I was working in mainstream banking and I was approached by this Black businessman that was trying to borrow at the time, I was not able to get his loan approved,” Long said. “I had been getting a lot of loans approved, but they were not Black. They were white people.”

She said it just came down to the fact that someone within the bank did not want this man's loan approved.

“I was sitting at my desk one day reading the newspaper and I see this article about this group called The Black Business Investment Fund,” Long said. “It was created to assist Black businesses that couldn't get loans through regular means. So I took my loan request to this organization, and presented it to their loan committee, and it was approved.”

She said that after speaking to BBIF for six or seven months, she was finally persuaded to join the group.

Under Long’s leadership, BBIF has provided more than $87 million in loans to over 1,000 businesses — including her own women-led initiative.

“Women-owned businesses are some of the largest and fastest-growing businesses as we speak, so they need a lot of support,” Long said. “That's why we have an initiative being led throughout Florida finding women who are interested in starting businesses, or who have started businesses and need a helping hand.”

A daycare center was funded by Long, and her contributions helped the business expand during the Covid-19 pandemic, a time when more than 66,000 small businesses in Florida closed.

“She ended up being the only daycare that was open during the pandemic in Jacksonville. It was perfect because doctors and nurses that were on call needed somewhere for their children to be well taken care of,” Long said. “She's grown that business tremendously.

“We've helped her and we started her out with a micro loan — a loan less than $50,000. And we ended up doing a new market tax credit investment for her to expand and grow her real estate.”

Long said that her greatest success is helping businesses like the daycare center grow big enough that they eventually switch over to mainstream banking.

“I think they're very proud of themselves,” she said. “They're able to put their children through college, they're able to power other people within the community, they're elevating the community when you really think about it.”

As for Long herself, she's just as proud of her clients.

“I feel very proud and very blessed that I was a part of that journey, to help them to do that,” Long said. “In spite of all of the rhetoric that's in the environment, a lot of times there's still people that want to see women-owned companies and minority-owned companies do well, because they understand that as those companies grow, the economy grows, and everybody wins.”

Tampa pro wrestler and philanthropist Thaddeus Bullard, who wrestles under the name Titus O'Neil, will receive the USF Kente Community Award, and USF alum Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has won two Super Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs, will serve as keynote speaker.

The Joyce Russell Kente Awards & Scholarship Ceremony takes place Thursday at 11 a.m. at the USF Marshall Student Center in Tampa.

Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.
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